Archive for December, 2009

22nd December
2009
written by Steph
Ok, not really, but having spent the last two years here in Nashville, being whisked away to Toronto to spend the holiday season is comparable, right?  It's been unseasonably chilly here the past few weeks (normally it doesn't get really cold here until Feb), but I'm still mentally balking at the idea of having to wear boots lest my feet become little blocks of ice.  Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to be going home after an extremely prolonged period away, and yes, I do love the sight of a lawn blanketed in snow... it's dealing with all that frozen water that gets me!  Still, there are plenty of things to look forward to, especially seeing friends and family after being far too long away.  And I'm also looking forward to blazing through the streets of Toronto, with Tony in tow, reveling in the fantastic shopping AND the great food.  This year we have a few particular treats in mind that Tony's never experienced: street meat (read: hot dog from one of the myriad vendors.  We've eaten a lot of hot dogs together, but in my mind, Toronto hot dogs cannot be beat!), nanaimo bars, REAL Canadian bacon (i.e., "back" bacon/pemeal bacon... preferably purchased in sandwich form at the St Lawrence Market... one of my greatest annoyances in life is how American call limp pieces of ham "Canadian bacon" when they are nothing of the sort!), and poutine!  We'll also be hitting up our old favourites, namely dim sum and the fantastic Chinese bakery in China town, and if I can score some Hakka food as well, I'll be a happy camper who will uncomplainingly brave any weather Jack Frost chooses to throw our way.  It's times like the holidays when I wish we had four stomachs, all the better to eat all the fabulous food there is to eat... Anyway, we fly out bright and early tomorrow morning, and I desperately hope that we don't hit any delays in Chicago, where we'll connect for Toronto.  In the past I am always far too ambitious in terms of the scope of my plans, as I always underestimate how much traveling takes it out of me, and how much Tony and I need this annual break to just recharge our batteries.  Along with socializing and traipsing about town, we'll also be squeezing in a trip to the DMV so I can renew my driver's license and hitting up the dentist.  Aw yeah, what a wild and merry Christmas we'll be having! 😉  I don't foresee that I'll be getting tons of reading done as I never do around this time of year, and probably even less blogging, however I'll be bringing home Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, which I'm smack dab in the middle of and am really loving (I'm hoping it will renew my reading spirits so I can start 2010 firing on all four cylinders).  I'll also have Great Expectations by Charles Dickens in case I should finish the Austen... perhaps being snowbound in Toronto is the setting I need to finally conquer that sucker! 😉  I don't want to pack too much, as we'll inevitably have gifts we'll need to bring back with us and will do some shopping as well, so we need to keep room in our bags for anticipatory loot! So, for now I'll bid you all adieu and wish you all very happy holidays, whatever and wherever it is you may be celebrating.  I'm not sure if I'll have a chance to update prior to the New Year, BUT you can look forward to a 2009 roundup in which I talk a little bit about my reading this year and name a few of my favourite (and not-so-favourite!) titles.  Happy reading to all of you, and I hope that you all have a restful and safe rest of 2009 and a very happy new year!
18th December
2009
written by Steph
Thanks, but no thanks...

Thanks, but no thanks...

For well over month now, I’ve been struggling to reclaim my reading groove.  I’ve just felt completely listless when it comes to picking my next read, and then worse yet, sticking with it.  With the weather getting increasingly cold and grisly outside, now is the perfect time of year to curl up with a good read.  Just my luck that good reads seem impossible to find right now.  My last few books have been too grim for my tastes, and seem only to increase my winter blahs.  I decided I needed something light and whimsical, so I turned to one of the Jeeves & Wooster novels that I picked up on our trip to New York.  You’ll all recall that I adored my first dalliance with Wodehouse a few months back, so I was certain this would be just the ticket to cure me of my reading malaise.  So, you can imagine my extreme disappointment in discovering that whatever kind of magician Wodehouse might normally be, I did not love Thank You, Jeeves and it was not the panacea to my biblio blues. Now, in saying that I did not love Thank You, Jeeves, I do not want you to think that this means I did not like the book.  Far from it.  It was very funny, very Wodehouse, very English… but it failed to charm me the way that Jeeves in the Morning did.  I have several guesses for why this is, but before I get into it, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the basic premise of the novel:  After being evicted from his London apartment due to his incessant strumming of the banjo, Bertie decides to embark for the country where he can play his instrument in peace.  Alas, Jeeves cannot abide the instrument and the two decide to part company.  A chance encounter with an old friend Chuffy has Bertie heading to an old cottage in the township of Chuffnell Regis where his banjo will bother no one.  But as is the way with Bertie and his rotten bad luck, his visit happens to coincide with that of an old flame, Pauline Stoker, not to mention her overbearing father, and one of Bertie’s old nemeses, Sir Roderick Glossop.  Hijinks ensue as Bertie tries to help Pauline & Chuffy find true love with one another, but as Jeeves would helpfully remind him (were he still in his employ), the course of true love never did run smooth, least of all for Bertie… (more…)
17th December
2009
written by Steph
Yesterday, my good friend Abby sent me a copy of an interview conducted with Jasper Fforde over at Shelf Awareness (and note that because she is such a good friend, she entitled the email “Your BF”, and I immediately knew who she meant… despite having a husband… 😉 ).  The interview is quite short (and can be read here), and focuses on what Fforde is reading and who his literary influences are and all that delightful stuff that gives us fans a peak into the mind of this marvelous man. Now, largely I marveled at how similar my tastes in authors are to those of Mr. Fforde (clearly indicating that we are destined), but one thing jarred me.  I’m all for authors mentioning favorite books or authors that I’ve never heard of (I love the constant realization that there are far too many books in the world for me to ever keep track of them all… and it’s always nice to think that maybe one of these books or writers will become a new favorite), but it throws me for a loop when they list someone as a literary BFF who I do have some experience with and who I just… don’t really care for.  In this interview, Fforde lists Alexander McCall Smith as one of his Top Five Authors, which is no small deal in my book.  Everyone else on his list (Wodehouse, Bryson, Twain, & Vonnegut) are all writers I can get behind (and I’ve sung at least three of their praises on this here blog), but the McCall Smith mention stopped me dead in my tracks.  I tried several times (at least thrice) to read the first book in his Ladies’ Detective Series, and I just COULD NOT DO IT.  I was bored and just didn't get what all the hoopla was about, and I eventually wrote McCall Smith off as one of those writers that I assumed I just wasn’t going to get. And now because of Jasper Fforde, I have myself second-guessing myself and wondering if I have been too hasty in my dismissal.  Perhaps Jasper is referring to McCall’s non-Ladies’ Detective Series books?  To anyone who is well-versed in the ways of McCall Smith, would I be better served in trying some of his other series instead to see what I’m missing?  If I were to only read one McCall Smith book what would you suggest? I also found myself wondering if the rest of you book lovers are as impressionable as I am.  Are there any authors out there who would cause you to do a 180 and give an otherwise neglected–by-you writer another shot?  Or perhaps you have someone else in your life who you find gives unerringly good book advice and if they say to read it, said book automatically goes to the top of your list?  I have to say, with the exception of Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Single, on which we have agreed to disagree, Abby has pretty much never steered me wrong when it comes to book choices (which is good since she ultimately decides which books I’ll review for BookPage, and it would stink if she was always sticking me with stuff that was not my thing… and even when she does stick me with something that’s not my usual quirky "Steph" read, she is aware she’s doing it... which counts for something, right?  And that doesn't happen all that often anyway...).  And even if I do have a massive crush on Jasper Fforde (but in a totally professional/respectable and not at all creepy way, I assure you), my darling husband has a pretty good read (ha!  See what I did there?) on whether a book will be to my liking, and it’s rare that we disagree on anything, never mind books, all that often.  After all, Tony is the one who has me convinced that I have to give my literary nemesis, Charles Dickens, another go.  Because of him, I will eventually conquer Great Expectations!  True love will out!  And then of course, there are all of you book bloggers, who add at least three or four books to my teetering and tottering mammoth of a TBR pile... No wonder I never make any progress with that thing!
14th December
2009
written by Steph
I know, I know, the wretched movie tie-in cover... but it's the copy I read (because it was cheap)!

I know, I know, the wretched movie tie-in cover... but it's the copy I read (because it was cheap)!

Due to a dismal turn-out at my real-life book club last month, I was selected as “She Who Will Choose Next Month’s Book”.  I always agonize over potential choices when it comes my time to choose, because few people in my book club are as voracious readers as I am.  I worry that many of my picks will be too challenging for many of them (not that they aren’t all smart ladies, just that I’m not entirely certain what many of them tend to pick on the “reading to relax” front) or too long (for a while we had a “no books longer than 300 pages” rule, which I thought was foolish).  I wanted to pick books that the rest of my group would be excited about but that would also promote good discussion; in the past I’ve picked Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.   This time I decided to shake things up and pick books that have been turned into movies, hoping that the prospect of getting to watch a film at our round-up would entice more people to actually read the book and attend the meeting!  I pitched three options and everyone voted, and in the end, Revolutionary Road nearly unanimously beat out In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Euginides. I went into the novel not knowing much about it, but I doubt many of you are in the same boat – this book has found a good deal of prominence in the book blogosphere, so it’s actually quite remarkable I went in as unspoiled as I did.  I pretty much just though it would be about a young couple’s marriage that was somehow sad/depressing, but that’s it!  Come to think of it, that’s actually a pretty good synopsis… 😉  For those of you looking for a bit more, the basic narrative thrust behind the novel is that the Wheelers, Frank & April, are a young married couple who had kids seven-years too early and have consequently moved to the suburbs in an attempt to embody the good old-fashioned American family.  Both Frank & April find suburbia rather oppressive and deadening, and the strain of the mundane is beginning to fracture their marriage that gets unhappier by the day.  Frank & April need to do something quickly in order to save their marriage and possibly reclaim a little joie de vivre as well.  Whether their best laid plans actually come to fruition, well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out! (more…)
10th December
2009
written by Steph
Well, I'm sick of Jennifer Johnson, so there!

Well, I'm sick of Jennifer Johnson, so there!

The reading slump continues, I’m afraid.  My brain has just been so g-d tired the past few weeks that I’ve been exceedingly picky about what I can/cannot read and most books in my TBR stack haven’t even been making it off the pile before I decide to hold off on them until later.  There’s nothing like the library to help make up your mind, however, as looming due dates help certain books wedge their way into your field of view; with lengthy queues on most new releases many of them wind up being “now or never” reads.  Jennifer Johnson... wound up being one such read. I first read about this book over at the Girl Detective’s blog.  Based on the cover I probably wouldn’t have given it much consideration, but her review convinced me that this was something other than your run-of-the-mill chick lit, and actually manages to pull of something relatively cool with the genre, so I thought I would give it a go.  The basic premise is that Jennifer is single and miserable, working in a lame copyrwriting job for a local department store, where she has a passive aggressive boss and the only thing getting her through the day is her gay pal, Christopher, and the Cinnabon girl in the foodcourt.  Her forrays into online dating have only led to more pain, and to add insult to injury her sister and her ex-boyfriend are both getting married on Valentine’s Day.  Just when she thinks things can’t get any worse, Brad Keller, who just happens to be the son of the man who is president of the department store where she works, waltzes into her life and actually appears interested in her!  All of a sudden, Jennifer is getting exactly what she wants… but at what cost? (more…)
8th December
2009
written by Steph
Ffantastic Mr. FForde

Ffantastic Mr. FForde

Forgive me, internet friends, but I have to do something I try very hard not to do: today, I'm gushing.  Why?  Because this morning I got to do a phone interview with Jasper Fforde!  I'm interviewing him for BookPage, and the interview will be posted on their site in January, so I can't spill too many beans here, which I realize is horrifically cruel of me, but them's the breaks. I will say that I was super nervous up to (and including) dialing his phone number (British numbers look so weird!), but you'll all be pleased to hear that I was the consummate professional and did not: a) hang up several times before finally going through with it like a 12-year-old girl; or b) propose matrimony.  And I only mentioned my über-fan status two or three times, and not in a scary way...  I had worried going in that I might not be able to keep up with someone as dazzlingly clever and charming as Mr. Fforde, but he was really very congenial and easy to talk to, and I think that all of my questions went over really well.  He was very candid and thoughtful, and it was so much fun to talk to one of my favorite authors about how he approaches writing as well as getting the inside scoop on some of the books.   We easily chatted for about an hour – one I would happily relive over and over again, because it just went by too quickly! While there are plenty of authors I’d love to interview if given the chance, I think Jasper Fforde was the best possible person to kick things off with… and if I never get to interview another author again, well, this will be enough.  Having seen him speak a few times previously, I knew he was extremely gracious and articulate, and well, we all know how I feel about a man with an accent... but it was so nice to find him that way in a one-on-one scenario as well. Consider my author crush intensified by 10,000!  Sigh.  I hope the ladies at BookPage let me keep the tape recording of us chatting (and that Tony doesn’t “accidentally” run the Mini Cooper over it)… So as not to be totally heartless, here are a few of the things that we discussed that will hopefully make my writeup in January (anything that doesn't but is trivia-worthy, I promise to post here):
  • Why did he feel it was time to branch out from the Thursday Next & NCD books?
  • The importance of comedy in fiction
  • Where the inspiration for Shades of Grey came from
  • The joys of book tours
  • Jasper gives some glimpses into the next Thursday Next book (slated for 2011 release!), and some of the books & well-loved characters he’s trying to cram in there
  • Which Thursday Next book is his favorite thus far
  • Why you should never visit Nashville on a Monday…
So much fun, guys!  I’m seriously on cloud nine right now (and wondering if I can swing a roadtrip to Atlanta on Jan 15 where Jasper will be doing a book signing and Q&A at the Buckhead Barnes & Noble.  P.S.  You should check and see whether he's coming to a city near you!)!  Tell me, if you could interview one author, who would you pick?  Any authorial crushes I should know about?
7th December
2009
written by Steph
Last Friday I took the afternoon off from work, as Tony and I had a friend coming over on Saturday night and I had big plans.  I was making boeuf bourguignon, you see… And I realize that it’s not in good practice to test out new recipes on guests, but despite being quite labor intensive, I had all the confidence in the world I could pull the dish off.  Now, because BB takes so long to cook (the prep is really pretty easy, but the thing needs to be in the oven for a few hours), I decided I would make it on Friday night and then simply reheat on Saturday evening (as there were no guarantees we would be around for several hours Sat afternoon to start the cooking), and voila: effortless and delicious dinner the evening of!  However, Tony told me he was probably going to have to work late on Friday night, and if that meant him not getting home until 7, well, I didn’t want to have to wait until then to run out and gather the groceries and then start cooking, so we met up for lunch (always fun), and then I drove him back to work and then kept the car to do my errands. And so began my afternoon as a make-believe housewife.  I have to say that shopping in the middle of the day during the week is actually DELIGHTFUL.  I got a prime spot in the parking lot and the store was far less congested.  Pretty much it was just me, a few elderly people, and lots of housewives.  I was able to zip through the aisles with speed and ease, and all was going smoothly… until I approached the checkout.  Seeing as it was the middle of the day, there were only two cashiers open, and I had to choose between standing behind an older bachelor or an old lady.  I opted for the old lady, because I figured she was probably more well-versed with efficient supermarket checkout.  This was a HUGE MISTAKE. While it didn’t look like she had a ton of items, her final bill wound up being $118… and this was after she had spent about 2 – 3 minutes scrounging about in her change purse in order to find her coupons (many of them for a measly 25¢…) that saved her a grand total of $3.50.  SERIOUSLY.  I am all for bargain shopping (Tony was greatly amused the first time we went to the grocery store and I would swap out products for those just a few cents cheaper…), but I do that when there isn’t a huge line of people behind me!  Plus, it’s not like she didn’t have plenty of time to have these coupons in hand before her final bill came up!  She certainly had enough time to have an awkward conversation (loudly, natch) on her cellphone while her items were being rung up. And then, the icing on the cake of rage: SHE PAID WITH A CHECK.  People, I cannot tell you how enraged I get when people pay for things at the grocery store with a check.  Why do this? Clearly you have a debit card, and if for some reason you don’t have the funds in your account at that exact moment in time, you can still choose the credit option!  Seriously, WTF?!?  If you use a check, it takes aaaaages, because you have to fill the whole thing out, and then they have to see your i.d. (despite carrying a purse, hers was stowed away in her fanny pack), and what should have been a 30-second process has now taken 5 minutes.  Haaaaaaaate. Just in case I wasn’t clear enough, I will repeat myself for clarity’s sake: When grocery shopping, DO NOT USE A CHECK TO PAY FOR YOUR PURCHASES.  It is unforgivably horrible of you, and all the joking and bashful smiles at the snaking line of people behind you doesn’t make it better.  In fact, it makes it worse because all that time you spend “gee whizzing” over how expensive groceries are today and simpering about how you’re sorry for holding up the line just means you are wasting more of my time.  Here’s an idea: rather than feeling bad about holding up the line, how about you just don’t do it?  Gah! Needless to say, after that experience, my trip to the nearby wine store was a necessity… and I don’t regret walking out with three bottles when I only needed one! And because I know you were all wondering, yes, the boeuf bourguignon was a success, which did much to soothe my fiery rage (but clearly not enough that I felt the check/coupon incident was no longer a bloggable offense!).
3rd December
2009
written by Steph
It's the return that possibly no one was waiting for!

My December review for BookPage

And now for something entirely different, head on over to BookPage and check out my review for the December issue, where I covered the sequel to The Nanny Diaries, Nanny Returns.  No, really, I did!  Can you tell December is slim pickings when it comes to new releases? Ok, but seriously, even though chick lit is really not a genre that I tend to kick back with if given my druthers, I will admit that I used to dig this stuff and even read the original Nanny Diaries way back when… and I’ve even seen the movie!  So how did the sequel hold up?  I think I nail it on the head when I say that if chick lit is your think and/or you really liked the first, then the sequel really isn’t all that shabby.  Not going to win a Pulitzer any time soon, but not all fiction strives to do that, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Sometimes you just want something fluffy and fun!  And I will say that it was an interesting exercise to read this and then to review it from the perspective of someone who is this book’s target reading audience and put my own biases aside… this book may not be in my wheelhouse, so to speak, but I’m actually quite happy with how the review turned out.  Take a look and let me know what you think! [P.S. If I were rating this on the site, I'd give it a 2 out of 5, simply because it just really isn't my kind of book, and all things considered, fluff may be fluff, but I'm still taking the writing and the plot into account when I'm evaluating a pleasure read... See above for this not winning the Pulitzer any time soon. Maybe it deserves something higher if I were grading on a "chick lit curve", but honestly I don't read enough of that genre to place this accurately on that curve, so we'll stick with my rating, which I bestow regardless of genre.] Oh, and since we're all disclaimer-y these days, I was given the book for free.
2nd December
2009
written by Tony
The view from the castle in Central Park

The view from the castle in Central Park

This was my first time in the city and Steph's second, though her first visit was for a conference and she didn't get to see much of the city at all. Fortunately for us (and our pocketbook) my half of this trip was sponsored by my employer. My visit to NYC was for a conference on dynamic environments through a trade organization I am a member of called  SEGD (Society of Environmental Graphic Design). The first day and a half of our visit (for me) was occupied with various seminars at different locations near Times Square. The conference was good, but the city was better. (more…)
1st December
2009
written by Steph
Was delighted by the dog and the town!

Was delighted by the dog and the town!

I had never heard of this series by J.F. Englert, featuring a mystery-solving black lab named Randolph until Jill of Rhapsody in Books mentioned it in passing in the comments of one of my posts.  I said the premise sounded fun and like something I would be interested in checking out, and the author himself came to my aid!  He offered to send me the first two books in the series for my perusal, and I am so glad that I took him off on his generous offer.  I found the first book in the series, A Dog About Town, a delightful and diverting read and will happily avail myself of the rest of the series in the future. The basic premise of A Dog About Town is that Randolph, a black lab, and his owner Harry live in downtown Manhattan.  Harry is an artist of sorts, who has had middling success, but has largely given up on his work ever sine the disappearance of the love of his life, Imogen.  Randolph is anything but your run-of-the-mill black lab, instead gifted with uncanny cognitive abilities, being able to reason and read, and is just as likely to quote from Shakespeare as he is to discuss the nuances of the variety of canine compatriots who frequent the Bull Moose Dog Run near the Natural History Museum.  In this first novel, Randolph put his remarkable powers of detection to work when Harry attends an ill-fated séance in which author Lyell Overton Minskoff dies of what appears to be a heart attack.  Despite all appearances, Randolph doesn’t believe that Minskoff’s death is as innocent as it seems, and worries that something more sinister – like murder – may be at play.  He soon narrows the suspects down to three strangers who were linked to the séance, but is saddened to discover that one of Harry’s good friends (and financial benefactors) may also be somehow involved.  It’s up to Randolph to figure out whodunit (and how to get Harry to realize it!) before another victim is claimed! (more…)